After Innocence

At 10 o'clock on a cloudless and balmy Tuesday morning, two eras overlapped on the streets of Washington. A little more than an hour had passed since two hijacked planes slammed into the World Trade Center in New York. Just minutes ago, another had crushed one wing of the Pentagon, the American military command center outside Washington. Half the pedestrians on the street had no idea what had happened. They chattered loudly about plans for dinner, proposals to rent the latest video release, and whether to leave their offices early on a gorgeous day. The other half walked silently, stiffly, urgently yet without direction. Their expressions were stricken and their faces were ashen. When their blank gazes met, each knew that the other knew as well.

The carefree strollers were still living, for a few more blessed minutes, in the age of American innocence. The rest of us were reluctant pioneers in a new era. The last time the United States admitted an enemy was when British troops torched Washington in 1814. Since that time, Americans have believed that we live apart from the quotidian horrors of the world -- the bombs of Ireland and Israel, the wars of the Balkans, the cultural upheaval of the Islamic nations, and the steady violence and deprivation of Africa. In our national myth, we sometimes venture forth to save the wretched world from itself, and at other times draw up our bridges and close our doors. But always our vast and rich country is safe between two oceans and our peaceable neighbors, Canada and Mexico. That belief is no longer possible.

The question now is what Americans will do after innocence.
Secretary of State Colin Powell has called the attacks on New York and Washington acts of war -- not against the United States, but against civilization. Surely he was right. The basic experience of civilization, as we understand it in the modern world, is a precious marriage of freedom and security. It is confidence that we can move about, share in goods and culture and ideas, and deal with others as dispassionately or as intimately as we and they please, all in the certainty that no sudden disruption will destroy our complex web of activity.

The attacks struck at the heart of this experience. They were unannounced, they used civilian aircraft as weapons, and they targeted ordinary people for destruction. This is the essence of terrorism -- not that it is carried out by people who cannot afford their own fighter jets, but that it destroys civilization. Terrorism is an attempt to make civilized life impossible by ensuring that no one can walk down a street, go to work in a tower of glass and steel, or board an airplane without fearing, however briefly, for her life. If terrorism produces a siege mentality, then terror has won. That is the sense in which the attacks represent a battle between civilization and barbarism.

The terrible irony of such a battle is that civilization loses only if it consents to become barbaric. One American form of barbarism is xenophobia, and there the center is holding -- with some strain. A Muslim cleric's presence to deliver the first of many prayers at the National Cathedral in Washington was a fine symbol of national unity. News anchors have mainly followed New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani's example by warning against blaming American Muslims. But in the past week there have been official reports of 40 attacks on the shops, restaurants, and homes of Americans of Middle Eastern descent, and members of immigrant networks describe anecdotes of widespread threats and assaults. Not only Muslims, but many Sikhs -- members of a faith related to Hinduism whose tradition requires men to wear a beard and turban -- have been attacked.

These are the responses of affronted innocence. They express the idea that everything was all right, before the latest band of immigrants arrived, that all Americans are loyal except for a few dissidents, and that if we can just clean out the rot, our innocence will be restored. The impulse to restore our national innocence is inevitable in such a time. It is also the most dangerous impulse.

The American response to terrorism will depend on empowering intelligence operatives at home and abroad, with implications for civil liberties and foreign policy. Although Colin Powell issued an assurance on Tuesday that the attacks "will not change the nature of our society," the next day he declared that the "war" will be fought "on the intelligence front." Attorney General John Ashcroft has asked for increased surveillance authority, and the Vice-President has warned that the anti-terrorism campaign will be conducted "in the shadows," by assassination and cooperation with criminals and, perhaps, competing bands of terrorists. Expanded surveillance powers are appropriate to a point, since old rules had not kept up with the proliferation of cellular phones and increased personal mobility. "Shadow" operations may prove necessary in a new kind of campaign; but in a time when Americans are appropriately rallying around the government, it is important to recall that such measures were prohibited in the past because they are dangerous. They give unaccountable power to officials and freelance operatives, and unaccountable power is always hazardous for democracy. Finding a reasonable balance of freedom and security is particularly perplexing when the enemy takes advantage of integral aspects of an open society, from free and ubiquitous communications to a frictionless economy. In such circumstances, there is a danger of treating freedom itself as the enemy. Once we issue the power to restrict liberty, revoking that power tends to mean a struggle.

It is easy to believe that not only these terrorists, but all who openly resent the United States are barbarians -- people outside the reach of sympathy and reason, who understand only force and must be dealt with accordingly. Resisting that impulse requires distinguishing between condemning the evil of terror and comprehending the existence of both suicide bombers and the crowds that, here and there, cheered their carnage. The point of understanding is not to soften the condemnation, but to make it effective, not only in retribution but also in prevention.

It is particularly dangerous to try to "make sense" of terrorism. The very idea suggests giving legitimacy to terrorist demands, treating terrorists as moral equals, or retreating from terrorist threats. The United States government is quite right to refuse all such proposals. Terrorism is not politics or moral argument in any way that does, or should, make sense to us. Most terrorism, everywhere in the world, is failed nationalism -- the essentially impotent yet terribly destructive expression of an already violent political passion. The decision to use terror always reveals more about those who make it than the conditions in which they do so. Moreover, there is always evil in the world, and the appetite for destruction needs to be stopped on its own brutal terms. Force is the only way a government can react to those who take up arms against its people. But an attack on a civilization also deserves a response worthy of a civilization -- not for the sake of the attackers, but for the sake of the civilization itself.

This means reflecting on America's place in the world. American power is vast, and it travels less often on the wings of fighter aircraft than by satellite broadcasts of American television and movies, and in the great and small movements of a global economy whose rules are America's rules. What Americans call "globalization" and imagine as a natural process of economic and cultural integration strikes many people elsewhere as something closer to empire. One basis of that empire is the power to lay down the principles that others must live by or be excluded from the world economy --free trade, protection for intellectual property, reductions in domestic spending and social programs, and an end to special privileges for local culture. The other is the power to shape desires. American images of prosperity and beauty have inflected the desire of people around the world. A Manhattan stockbroker and a young man on the West Bank both recognize the curve of a Baywatch model and the swish of the Nike logo, and both in some sense want them.

These kinds of power breed especially potent resentment because they intimately implicate the same people they affect. The global free market is never forced directly on anyone. It arises out of the consent of governments and individuals who feel that no other alternative -- and hence no real choice -- remains open to them. Globalized desire works through the appetites, the senses, above all the eyes of people everywhere. It becomes a part of its hosts, but changes them as well. It is both foreign and one's own, and there is no way to expunge it. What penetrates one's very choices and desires is both welcomed and resented, and this division defines the combination of fascination and embitterment with which much of the world views America.

Combine that with the cruelest irony of today's world: the desperately poor slum-cities in Asia, Africa, and Latin America where families and neighborhoods can gather around flickering television sets to watch images of wealth and pleasure that, even in the United States, are exotic to most people. Luxury and indulgence that were once unimaginable to all but a few now do not even require imagination: they are on display for anyone who can tune in, which means nearly everyone. We live in a world that sows with one hand desire that it frustrates with the other. The resentments of slums and refugee camps are part of the reason that America is hated and loved, often in the same hearts. They may not have caused this attack, but they help to ensure that it will not be the last.

The United States cannot escape being the world's emblem of globalization. As long as globalization produces not only benefits, but also injuries, affronts, and displacements, America will bear the brunt of any reaction against it. This means that America and its allies hold responsibility for making globalization more than a set of economic and cultural upheavals, and offering its changes as a form of civilization that deserves adherence. This is the insight that General George C. Marshall, creator of the Marshall Plan that helped to rebuild Europe after World War II, expressed when he declared in 1947 that national policy must be "directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos." Such a policy meant ensuring that democratic Europe would be a place of order, security, and, in time, prosperity. Bombs could stop armies, but they could not establish that a civilization deserved loyalty. In a time of war between civilizations, that was the point that democratic capitalism needed to win.

In today's world, pursuing the same aim would mean pressing a more humane and democratic version of globalization. On the level of rules and principles, it would require recognizing -- as the United States recognized of Europe after the war -- that integration into the world economy should not require adopting a laissez-faire model of economic and social life. Countries' economies are always shaped by cultural ideas about the proper proportions of individuality to solidarity, continuity to change. When the present version of globalization strips economic life to a set of universal, efficiency-maximizing rules, it creates the impression of empire and breeds as much resentment as loyalty.

A wise policy would demand even more in resources. Around the world, hundreds of millions of people whose rural, agrarian lives are no longer economically possible have fled to the edges of cities as virtual refugees. Across Latin America and Asia and in pockets elsewhere, the poor are becoming the labor force of the rich world, producing everything from clothing to the latest computer programs at a fraction of the cost of American or European workers. Yet although they form an integral part of a global economy, their membership is incomplete. They have little or no power as organized workers or as voters to affect the companies that employ them. Many have little or no security should they lose their jobs or grow too old to work. Most cannot travel or migrate to the countries where their products -- and their profits -- return at the end of the long global assembly line.

A nation-state -- our best working model of political community -- is bound together by several commonalities. One is a shared material life of production and consumption. Another is a national myth, a story of language and identity that links distant individuals in their imaginations. The last is politics, the status of citizenship that ensures equal membership by means of rights and protections. This is what distinguishes a nation from an empire, where different people occupy different levels of membership. An integrated global economy has created the link of shared material life. Globalized desire links people in imagination and identity more than ever in the past. But our politics -- our means of giving individuals membership in a community of common destiny -- is imperial.

That is not an insult but an observation of fact. In some parts of the world, people enjoy comfort and -- even after Tuesday -- security. In others, insecurity and inequality are life's most basic facts. Changing this would require a massive commitment of resources, the kind that the United States once dedicated to Europe and, later, Europe infused into Greece and Spain. The purpose would be what it has been before: to integrate people not by force or because they have no other choice, but through the benefits -- economic, but also civilizational -- of membership.
But this cannot mean just a loosening of rules or a commitment of resources.

It also requires distinguishing between terrorists and their patrons, who are barbarians,
and Islam, which is a civilization. Much talk in the United States, among commentators and elected officials as well as the public has proposed putting global Islam in the place vacated by communism after the Cold War -- the position of the worldwide enemy. That would be a vast mistake. The Islamic world is home to many believers who abhor the attack on the United States, but also lament that America has chosen oil-rich despots, and even the Afghan rebels who became the Taliban, as its allies in the region. Rightly or wrongly, they take this as evidence that Americans consider them unworthy or respect as a civilization. The best assurance of long-term Western security would be a peaceful and democratic Middle East a century from now. Despite that fact, American policy in the region has supported makeshift means to stability, at the cost of alienating Muslims who admire neither the Taliban nor the Saudi princes, and would like to bring their region into the modern world on terms of mutual respect. If we are to join forces with civilized Islam against its own worst barbarians, Americans will have to reconsider our policy of supporting whatever forces in the region are presently convenient, which has so often worsened later conflict and deepened resentment against the United States.

Americans remain shocked and enraged a week after the attack. We who are fortunate enough not to have lost anyone close to us have been reading victim lists again and again, fearing for acquaintances and classmates. The country wants revenge. Retribution is the most basic moral instinct. That is why nearly every word for moral or legal obligation comes from some ancient term for a debt -- often a blood-debt. And of course we will respond. No responsible person questions that.

But what we do is not the only question. The spirit in which we do it matters as well. The purpose of barbaric attacks is to prove that civilization is a thin shell, that beneath it we are all scared, angry, ready to lash out violently for the sake of violence. That is why terrorism, more than any other crime, requires us to struggle against ourselves. It requires that our relentless, decisive retribution come with as little hatred as possible. This is a terrible thing to say, because it is unnatural. It denies the passion for reciprocal destruction that fills us now. But the point of civilization, unlike barbarism, is that it is unnatural. It is a triumph of intelligence and moral training over nature. It is the thin shell that every terrorist wants to shatter.

We have been moved by Europeans' show of support in the past week. Now, just as all of us in the West have been marked by the terrible crimes of September 11, we also share responsibility for the way we respond. In a time like this we lose the privilege of isolating ourselves morally from common life.

So, we must decide together what comes after innocence. If it is untamed revenge, even vigilante revenge, then the terrorists have won this battle twice over. If it is a restriction of freedom and a rise of intolerance, then we will have surrendered too much of what defines us. But if it is -- against all instinct -- civilized as well as implacable, if there is sorrow in our anger, and if we are determined to make a better world, then we will have proved again the power of civilization to renew itself.

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